Inflation

Jan. 7th, 2011 01:47 pm
Last year, I found that I wasn't going to the gym as often as I should to make it cost effective, so I quit the gym and started to work out at home. I'm currently using the Wii and doing EA Sports work-outs (which include resistance bands to help with the work-out). I'm now on the third generation of the "game" and find the following version interesting:

* Version 1 (EA Sports Active) has a "30 day" program.

* Version 2 (EA Sports More Workouts) has a "6 week" program.

* Version 3 (EA Sports Active 2) has a "90 day" program.

A few more versions, and they'll have to up the ante to the "lifetime" program.
I'm not sure if this is the new miracle of Hanukkah or just laziness, but the menorah on public display in our city plaza is still there. Maybe the new miracle is that the menorah will last for an additional 8 days?
I'm planning on buying a new camera, and I downloaded the manual to learn more about it. I'm so glad that the manual included this useful information:

When operating the viewfinder diopter adjustment control with your eye to the viewfinder, care should be taken not to put your finger in your eye accidentally.

Warning

Oct. 3rd, 2010 01:36 pm
The following is from an Amazon Product Description:

Warning: Frequent foul language, mild sex scenes, and Australian spelling.
There's a duplex nearby that has two signs in the front yard. One says "For rent", and the other says "This property approved for demolition".

I wonder if the second sign makes it harder to rent?
We went to see a local production of "Breaking the Code" (about Alan Turing) last night. A couple of things that have gotten me thinking:

1) The original logo (on the playbill, for example), shows a swastika in the "o" of "Code" to signify that part of what Alan Turing did was to quite literally help save his country by breaking the Nazi "Enigma" code. As we arrived to the theater, one of the crew was repainting the sign, replacing the full swastika with a fist crushing a swastika (a "breaking" of the swastika, if you wish). I wonder whether they had been getting complaints from people driving by and just seeing the swastika without knowing anything about the play -- or if they were getting lots of neo-Nazi people wanting to see the play thinking that it was something else who were then upset by Turing's homosexuality.

2) Alan Turing was "good enough" during the war because his intelligence was needed. Later, his country treated him incredibly poorly and he ended up committing suicide. It got me thinking about how often this kind of things happens at all levels. A country, or company, or person, ignores or excuses behavior they don't like while they are getting something that they need or want from the person, but once that person's usefulness ends to them, suddenly this same behavior becomes a major factor. I'd like to think that I'm better than that -- that I would act with integrity in all situations, but I really don't know. It's all too easy to be forgiving and accepting when things are going your way, and all too easy to be judgmental when things are going poorly.
Am I the only one who thinks we need an updated version of "A Christmas Carol" with current religious leaders as Scrooge, being visited by spirits of previous hate-mongers who try to convince them to actually preach love?
We saw the movie Good Hair the other day, and I just finished reading Blonde Roots.

"Good Hair" is a very interesting documentary with more depth than might be expected. On one hand, it does a decent job of describing how the desire for "Good Hair" impacts the black community, with financial and emotional costs. But, I think that the movie also provokes good thought and discussion about areas such as:

* why does a group of people allow "others" to make money off them? In the case of black hair care products, it seems that most companies are owned by whites or asians. Similar things happen to gay people, or to just about any group. Why don't minority groups make a larger effort to have their dollars funneled back into their own community?

* why does the definition of beauty so often derive from unattainable standards? People suffer from anorexia in order to look slim, for example. Is there something about the human psyche that can only identify something as beautiful if it isn't attainable by normal people?


"Blonde Roots" is an alternative-world retelling of the slave trade. In this world, the "Aphrikans" enslaved the "Europanes". It would be a good book all by itself, but reading the book reminds you that much worse atrocities took place than the events in the book. Also, it's hard not to see the potential parallels in current society where certain groups are looked upon as "not human" and thus behavior regarding them doesn't follow "normal" bounds. How small is the step between "terrorists don't deserve any basic rights" to thinking of an entire group as somehow less human?
I've known my mother's husband -- the man I call my father -- all my conscious life. I know that there have been many times when I've disappointed him, when he wouldn't have chosen me if he hadn't married my mother. It's not like I robbed a bank or anything, just little things like when he and his son Glenn would be out in the garage working on cars, I would be inside the house reading. Or when Glenn was out playing sports, and I was always the last chosen for a team during gym class. But there were also times when I know that he was proud of me. When I succeeded academically and graduated top of my high school class, he was happy to introduce me as his son.

When I came out as gay to my mother and him, he replied that he could never accept or condone homosexuality, but that he still considered me his son. Our relationship was a little rocky then for a few years, but time worked its magic and things got better. More years passed, and I met and fell in love with Mark. We bought a house together and we started our life together. My family (including the man I call my father) welcomed Mark into the family.

About 5 years ago, same-sex marriage started to become a possibility. This, however, was something that the man I call my father just could not accept and so he no longer calls me his son. He even tells extended family members who have known me for years that I am no longer his son.

To him, marriage is something different, and it changes everything.

On this, I may have to agree with him. Mark & I have spent thousands of dollars on lawyers to get all the legal documents we can sign to provide us with a fraction of the benefits that a roughly $50 marriage license will provide a straight couple. But, even with all our legal documents, there isn't any guarantee that they will be followed.

If Mark & I travel to the state my mother and her husband live in, and I'm in an accident and taken to the hospital, the hospital might choose to ignore any "power of attorney for health care" that Mark shows, and forbid him from being in the emergency room with me. The hospital might allow the man I call my father (as nearest legal relative) to make health care decisions for me and deny Mark any rights at all. With enough time, and spending more money on lawyers, Mark would probably eventually get the rights I want him to have, but in an accident, would I still be alive by the time the legal stuff was dealt with?

And it doesn't end if I die. I believe that if I lived in Virginia, even my will could be challenged, and that the man I call my father could try to have Mark removed from our house upon my death and thrown out on the street.

And that's just talking about the things that don't cost anyone anything (well, other than us, paying for lawyers). We also couldn't add the other to a work health insurance policy -- or if that company did allow such things (most don't), we would be taxed on the perceived benefit. We can't file joint taxes. When one of us dies, the other will owe taxes on anything that is inherited -- including the house -- unlike a straight married couple where all the assets just transfer to the surviving spouse.

I know that its unfair, but I partly blame the man I call my father for this state of affairs. I know that he is just one person, but if parents won't stand up for their children and try to make the world a better place for their children, then our civilization is indeed on a bad path. For, you see, the man I call my father really is my biological father, and I am his biological son. I still call him my father. Maybe some day, he'll call me his son again. I hope by that time he'll also be calling Mark his son-in-law.
I'm considering getting some kind of eBook reader in order to read PDFs. More and more lately, I'm running into long PDFs that I want to read, but trying to read them on the computer screen just bothers my eyes. So, I'm considering purchasing an eBook type reader just for that purpose.

Anyone have any experience with them? It will be important to be able to zoom in (old eyes), and of course, the quality of the "ink" on the "page" is paramount. The whole idea is to make this easier on my eyes than trying to read on the computer screen.

Or, maybe I should just take the same amount of money & just print the damn things out rather than read them on a device.
I recently got an iPod Touch, with the hopes of making it my PDA.

I realized the other day that buying software for the iPhone/iPod Touch is a lot like buying software from 20 years ago -- you do some research, can't really figure out how the features of this product compare with the features of their competitor, look at ratings and reviews possibly salted with responses by competitors or family members, cross your fingers and buy the software.

I had forgotten all that because lately almost every software product I have bought for a computer (including my Palm Pilot) in the last 15 years was "try and buy", giving you 30 days or so to actually try out a fully featured version of the product. There are definitely products I've downloaded & tried out, and then decided that they weren't right for me, as well as products that I might not have purchased if I had been required to plunk down the money up front, but once I tried them out, I realized that they would be useful.

Sure, some of the iPhone apps have "free" versions (they all seem to be crippled versions, not ones that will stop working after a given number of days), but all that seems to do is to bloat the number of entries in the "app store", making it even harder to find a product that you would like.

So far, I'm not overly impressed and am somewhat amazed how much people rave about the iPhone/iPod Touch.
Well, I just got screwed by Apple. They are using deceptive advertising because the price of the iPod Touch is actually $10 more than the advertised price -- in order to get the latest OS version, you have to buy that as a separate "upgrade". Way to screw over customers, Apple.
Ever since I've had access to computers, I've had a calendar and address book on one, including big main frames in the old days (OK, not when my only access was punch cards, but after that). As I've switched computers, I've converted the data to each new machine, and it looks like it may be time to do it again. I've had my calendar/address book on a Palm product for a while (after the EO and Newton became unsupported), but it's looking like the old Palm OS is yet another unsupported system. I'm considering switching to an iPod Touch, but haven't made that decision yet. I have converted the calendar data to an XML format (which is easily converted to ical via an XSLT translation). I guess I'll have to do something similar for the address book data.

One thing I've learned over the years: don't get too invested in any one file format, because you're likely to have to change in the future.
I was listening to "Wicked" the other day, and a few of the lines made me think of Obama:

From "Popular": ... heads of State or specially great communicators. Did they have brains or knowledge? Don't make me laugh. They were popular. It's all about popular . . .


From "Thank Goodness": It's strange, but it seems a little - well - complicated. There's a kind of a sort of : cost. There's a couple of things get: lost. There are bridges you cross you didn't know you crossed until you've crossed.

After all the hope that Obama would be another JFK leading us to Camelot, these just seemed to have a poignant ring to them.
I decided to switch over to making popcorn on the stove, but after reading the instructions, maybe I'll switch back to microwave popcorn:

Heat 2-3 tablespoons of cooking oil and one kernel of popcorn in large, heavy covered pan. After kernel pops, pour in 1/3 cup popcorn (or enough to cover bottom of pan, no more than one kernel deep); recover. Shake or stir until all is popped. Season to taste.


Sounds like people will swoon after pouring in the popcorn!
Mark & I went to the Newseum (a museum of journalism) on Monday. One of the exhibits was talking about how news has changed with the advent of the internet, blogging, cell phone cameras, etc.

I've heard all the concerns about how the bloggers aren't trained journalists, and may not follow the same code of ethics (such as it is), and that does concern me about news in the future.

However, the museum pointed out something that I hadn't really been thinking about: it's possible that "News" providers (whether TV or "newspapers") will start using these other sources as part of their cost cutting in order to survive. However, who then will pay for true investigative reporting? Very few bloggers or whistle blowers are going to invest a lot of time and money into really getting all the parts of the story. It may be that we'll get more little pieces of a story, but never really an in-depth investigation.

Food, Inc.

Apr. 6th, 2009 02:28 pm
As part of the Ashland Independent Film Festival, today I saw Food, Inc. (also here).

I was already aware of most of what the film talked about -- I've read Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore's Dilemma (and both of those guys were in the film).

I did walk out with a couple of thoughts I wanted to share:

1) The film blames much of the problem on the industrialization of food. I think doing so misses the important point that without industrialization, then poor people just won't be able to afford things. Look at mass production as applied to the car industry: only rich people could afford cars when they were essentially hand produced. Only after Henry Ford introduced mass production could the average person afford a car. Of course, mass production has its own dark side, but it isn't as one-sided as "mass production bad".

2) One of the most interesting things to me was the reminder of how our capitalistic society fails because we don't give the consumer the tools and knowledge to make an informed decision. It's shocking to know that the food industry can sue someone for "slander" for simply saying what their own food preferences are. It's obscene to think that laws exist which can make it illegal to publish photos of what goes on at a feed lot. Without having access to information, consumers can not make informed choices.

How many people really understand that the low cost of that soda they are drinking isn't really so low when you look at the actual cost. For example, through taxes, we pay corn growers a subsidy which has the net result of keeping corn prices low. If one were to add that back to the can of soda, that would raise the price slightly. There's the rising health costs to treat diabetes and other health problems caused by the food people eat. Add that in to the cost of your soda as well. I won't even start on the ecological impact of the pesticides used to grow that corn, or the fact that we essentially have a "monoculture" when it comes to farming, so if anything upsets the crop, it could be truly devastating (whereas if we had true diversity in farming, one crop might fail, but others probably wouldn't).

The film did end on a positive note, however. It reminded people that they can vote with their dollars at every meal, by choosing to spend a bit more money (if they have it) to buy something that is better for them, or better for the factory workers, or better for the animals involved. The film also reminded people that when they are depressed because the FDA doesn't shut down plants that sell contaminated Peanut Butter and that it looks like the foxes are guarding the hen house, that not too many years ago the tobacco lobby was strong and kept any anti-smoking rules from happening. With enough grass roots efforts, the tobacco companies lost their fight, and the "big business" food producers can lose as well.

Prom Night

Apr. 3rd, 2009 03:13 pm
Today, we saw Prom Night in Mississippi (also promnightinmississippi.com). This documentary tells about a small town high school in Mississippi that has held separate black and white proms. Morgan Freeman (who was born in that area) offered to pay for the prom if the prom were integrated.

There were two things that I found incredibly amazing about all this. First off, there are still places where racism is so rampant even in the year 2008 that white parents didn't want their children going to a prom where black kids would be present, even though all these kids are in the same classes every day at school.

What I found even more amazing, though, was how well spoken the kids were. I don't believe the film showed any footage of the people who actually opposed the prom (including the small number of white students who wouldn't go to the integrated prom), so I can't tell you how smart or eloquent they were. But all the kids they showed on the film (who were all supporters of the integrated prom) were very well spoken and often insightful. I know that I would not have been as well spoken or composed in front of a camera when I was that age!

Yes, there were times when I wish that the movie had subtitles (I don't understand deep southern drawl very well), but even the kids who were obviously not the "college-bound overachievers" were well spoken and obviously had thought about things.

When I feel despair over the progress of gay rights in this country, sometimes seeing how racism is still a major issue makes me despair even more. But then I see how the majority of the kids are overcoming the prejudices of their parents, and I start to believe that we just need to wait for a generation or two to die off and things will get much better.

[I forgot to mention that one kid in the school appears in the movie only blurred out -- he was afraid that his parents would disown him for not being racist. Just about every gay kid in America knows how he feels.]
The Ashland Independent Film Festival is going on right now. Tonight, Mark & I saw a pair of documentaries: Ask Not (about Don't Ask, Don't Tell) and The War of 33 about the Israeli bombing of Lebanon in 2006.

"The War of 33" showed the horrors of war -- the "innocent" people being hurt and killed; homes being destroyed, leaving families homeless. One can argue whether anyone is innocent who silently supports -- or even does not actively fighting against -- "bad" organizations, but the people in this film were not the ones who were directly shooting or bombing Israelis.

By contrast, "Ask Not" was all about people wanting to become soldiers. Particularly poignant was one gay man who signed up to fight in Iraq because he believes that we need to stabilize that country. Having just seen "The War of 33", the thought that this soldier's actions might be viewed by the Iraqi civilians in the same way that the Lebanese viewed the Israeli army made me really think about some of my own attitudes.

It's hard for me to know whether war is ever justified. Knowing what we know now about Hitler and the atrocities committed, I think that I would say that WWII was "justified", just as I think that invading Iraq as a "preemptive" maneuver was not "justified".

There are times that I truly admire Gandhi, but I don't know if I have his patience or belief in the human race that things will actually get better.

Coming back to these two movies, the theme in both of them was humanity -- wanting to be able to do what you believe in without having overly harsh consequences. And in both these movies, it's clear that there is no happy end in the near term.
I got an envelope in the mail recently trying to get me to sign up for some magazine. As part of their bid to get people to sign up, they have a contest for winning a free KitchenAid stand mixer -- all determined by whether or not you have the appropriate sticker to put on your entry form. The sticker on my envelope says "FREE STAND MIXER". Sounds good, right?

The instructions say:
Did you win the Mixer? A lucky sticker tells all.
Reply with one of the special "winning" stickers and win this
KitchenAid Stand Mixer FREE!!


I'm betting that they used quotes appropriately in the sentence above, and that the sticker needs to have the word "winning" on it -- that a sticker saying "FREE STAND MIXER" isn't actually a winning sticker.